When Stephanie Cooper stepped into the role of finance manager at Timbrook Automotive’s Kia store in Cumberland, Md., she felt like she was in over her head. But what Cooper lacked in F&I experience, she made up for in hard work. Four and a half years later, this self-professed “car girl” was named the 2013 winner of the Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS)-sponsored F&Idol contest.
The deciding vote took place on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at F&I and Showroom‘s 2013 F&I Conference and Expo in Las Vegas. She and two other finalists reshot their video entries onsite, a first for the competition. “[The reshoot] took the variables out of it, because everybody’s in the same environment; there are no distractions,” says Bob Corbin, president and CEO of IAS. “So I think the quality is much better and it’s certainly standardized.”
The change threw Cooper for a loop at first, but she quickly regained her footing.
“Of course I was still nervous during the video — it was a different environment. But it was like, ‘Why am I nervous?’” she recalls. “I do this every day.”
Cooper, who made the final round by winning the contest’s vehicle service contract (VSC) category with her five-minute video submission, took home $1,000 for being a category finalist and another $2,500 for the overall prize. She is the second straight F&Idol winner from Timbrook Automotive, following in the steps of the contest’s 2012 winner, F&I Director Dina Wilson.
Following a career in newspaper ad sales, Cooper jumped right into the F&I business thanks to Fred Timbrook, Jr. He first spotted Cooper’s potential when she worked in his body shop prior to her stint in ad sales. After he purchased the Kia rooftop in 2009, he hired her as an F&I manager.
“Even though I was struggling that first year, the owner and my rep from Resource Automotive didn’t give up on me,” Cooper says. “They kept pushing me and pushing me and pushing me, telling me, ‘You’re going to get this. One day it’s just going to click.’ And one day it did.”
Cooper now averages $1,400 per retail unit (PRU) on new vehicles and $1,200 on used. The dealership’s sales manager, Dave Lindsey, says Cooper’s greatest attribute is her ability to get customers to see the value in the protections she offers.
“For example, Kia has one of the best warranties in the business … and she has over 50 percent [vehicle service contract] penetration,” Lindsey says. He praises her ability to identify the limits of the factory warranty and explain how customers can augment that coverage by tying the service contract to their monthly payment.
Cooper attributes much of her success to Timbrook’s focus on roleplaying. The repetition of the exercise, she says, has been especially helpful when facing objecting customers. “You have to have a quick response and be on your feet, and it just becomes like second nature,” she says. “I swear, some nights I wake up at 2 a.m. giving my presentation in my sleep.”
For the past three years, Cooper has worked closely with Colvill Omanwa of Resource Automotive, a division of The Warranty Group. He visits the dealership twice a month to review objection handling and processes with Cooper, who sets new goals for herself each month.
“I push myself to beat the month before,” Cooper explains. “This past year, the majority of my months were over $1,400 a unit. In August, I had over $1,800 a unit [on new cars] and last month I was at $1,600.”
Using a customer interview process taught by Resource Automotive, Cooper says she averages between 1.3 and 1.5 products per deal. About 20 to 30 percent of her per-copy average comes from reserve.
“We have had that process in place for four years,” Cooper says. “We follow it to a ‘T’ and we have the highest numbers in the company.”
Part of this process entails the use of a hybrid menu Resource created for the store, which F&I producers print on legal-size paper before presenting to the consumer. As for format, the menu is divided into columns containing different products. The first column contains the service contract while the second contains what Cooper calls “the preferred plan.” It includes key replacement, LUXCARE paint-and-fabric protection, GAP and a bundled product offering dent and ding, tire and wheel, and windshield chip repair.
“When I present products to customers, I usually give them two terms instead of asking an open-ended question,” Cooper says. “I always give an either/or question: ‘Do you prefer Option A or Option B?’ or ‘Do you want that for 60 months or 72 months?’”
This method has earned Cooper a 62 percent acceptance rate on GAP. And on leases, she adds, the three-in-one product penetrates at 70 percent.
Going the Extra Mile
Situated a short distance from both West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Timbrook is located in a fairly rural area but is adjacent to several major cities. The area is dominated by credit unions — five of which have a relationship with the dealership — but that hasn’t impacted Cooper’s 85 percent finance penetration.
Cooper’s initial pitch when she gets a “TO” centers on the convenience of financing a vehicle purchase through the dealership. But she knows that whatever rate she secures for her customers must be competitive, especially with credit unions having such a heavy presence in the area.
“That means a lot of my deals go out at buy rate,” she admits.
The store’s clientele, Cooper says, is mostly older, which is why the dealership goes the extra mile by providing offsite delivery and other services. “We take a lot of pride in providing that red carpet treatment, and making sure we go above and beyond for every single customer,” Cooper says proudly.
In mid-October, Cooper was transferred to Timbrook’s Chevrolet store to help increase the F&I department’s profitability and finance penetration, a move she calls a “huge compliment.” The dealer group boasts six rooftops, not including Timbrook Honda, which deals exclusively in powersports and equipment.
Lindsey claims that Cooper is always around to lend a helping hand, which made her an asset at the small-staffed Kia store. “When the other salespeople are busy, she’ll even go out on the lot without any prompt and take a customer and try to sell them,” he says, noting that Cooper would also pitch in at the Timbrook Buick GMC store across the street.
Sales and F&I work well together at Timbrook, with Lindsay and Cooper often stepping in for each other and other staff when necessary. “The sales team appreciates [Cooper’s] results,” Lindsey adds. “They definitely want to make sure they provide a smooth transition [from sales to F&I].”
Cooper often sits with new salespeople to practice her pitch, and to go through the F&I menu so they understand the products being offered. Salespeople return the favor by endorsing the protections she offers on the showroom floor. Sometimes, Lindsey adds, they’ll even handle a customer objection.
“These guys know to lead in with the extended warranty talk,” Lindsey says. “A customer is going to say, ‘Well, I have a 100,000-mile warranty, why do I need anything else?’ They explain why; they help set her up for that transaction.”
The dealer group also holds finance meetings at least twice a month. Resource’s Omanwa will go over the prior month’s numbers and year-to-date numbers to identify areas needing improvement. Those meetings include every finance manager at every Timbrook rooftop.
“We don’t just go to work every day,” Cooper says. “We’re more of a family.”
In addition to guiding Timbrook’s finance managers, Omanwa is also the reason Cooper entered the F&Idol contest, which asked F&I and Showroom readers to submit a five-minute video of their best on-camera pitch in five categories: Vehicle Service Contract, Tire & Wheel, Key Replacement, F&I Product for Lease Customers and an open category.
“I thought there was no way,” Cooper laughs. “[Omanwa] said, ‘No really, you should really send [a video] in. What’s the worst that could happen?’”
Cooper’s video entry showed her handling two common customer objections: “The payment is too high” and “Well, the warranty is enough.” Based on the results, it’s clear voters at the magazine’s September conference thought she handled them with ease.
IAS’ Corbin, who says F&Idol entries have been steadily improving over the years, also thought Cooper’s presentation was strong. “I was a judge in a room of a couple hundred, so it was really the whole group who thought her presentation was packaged the best,” Corbin says. “Obviously, she had it all together.”
Asked what her secret to success is, Cooper is quick to recognize Omanwa and Lindsey. She also reveals that what motivates her is her desire to set a good example for her 12-year-old daughter.
“I would not be nearly as successful as I am without the people behind me that push me,” she says. “I am really, really honored.”